Hopes grow for fresh NZ COVID elimination

By AAP Newswire

For the third straight day, New Zealand has recorded no new cases of COVID-19 in the community, raising hopes its recent cluster in Auckland has been contained.

On Thursday, health authorities announced they'd found seven new cases of the virus, all picked up within the border regime.

Four recent arrivals from India and one each from the USA, Indonesia and Uzbekistan have tested positive for coronavirus while quarantining, as is compulsory in New Zealand.

The South Pacific country enjoyed 102 days without a community case of COVID-19 until the virus returned in Auckland last month.

Jacinda Ardern's government responded by locking down Auckland's 1.6 million residents for 16 days, and for the rest of New Zealand, returning restrictions such as social distancing and caps on gathering.

Ms Ardern has promised to remove all restrictions from outside Auckland from Monday if the run without cases continues.

"That is what we were looking for," she said.

"It does say look we are on track. Our plan once again is working. It's doing what we intend."

While Ms Ardern has broad community support for her health-first approach, the government's coalition partners New Zealand First dissented from a cabinet decision last Monday to wait for a reduction in cases before relaxing restrictions.

Winston Peters, the NZ First leader and deputy PM, said Kiwis should have seen the return of freedoms earlier this month.

Ms Ardern says she will continue to be risk averse and rely on advice from director-general of health, Ashley Bloomfield.

"We always need to just be a bit cautious," she said.

"Because we are a country which has adopted a strategy of eliminating and then going to full freedoms so you have to be careful that when you go to those full freedoms you're ready.

"For those decisions we'll be making, that confirmation about our plan, we'll be making on Monday on the final advice of the director-general."

New Zealand, with a population of five million, has had 25 deaths due to COVID-19.

Australia, roughly five times the size, has had 832 deaths or 33 times as many.